As Washington politicians aim to restrict the Second Amendment, they should look in the mirror. The time to control government’s guns is now. Overarmed federal officials increasingly employ military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. From food-safety cases to mundane financial matters, battle-ready public employees are turning America into the United States of SWAT.
FBI agents and U.S. marshals understandably are well fortified, given their frequent run-ins with ruthless bad guys. However — as my old friend and fellow columnist Quin Hillyer notes — armed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Small Business Administration and Railroad Retirement Board staffers pack heat!
These “ninja bureaucrats,” as Hillyer calls them, run rampant. They, and often their local-government counterparts, deploy weapons against harmless, frequently innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.
• An FDA SWAT unit struck Lancaster, Pa.’s Rainbow Acres Farm in April 2010. From there, farmer Dan Allgyer illegally had shipped unpasteurized milk to his customers across state lines through something called a “cow-sharing agreement.” (Really.) Ignoring a woman’s right to choose raw milk, Washington launched an armed federal response against this Amish-run dairy. The company subsequently folded.
“He was not tricking people into buying it, he was not forcing people to purchase it, and there had been no complaints about his product,” stated then-Representative Ron Paul (R., Tex.). “These were completely voluntary transactions, but ones that our nanny-state federal government did not approve of, and so they shut down his business.”
U.S. marshals and other federal officers also have conducted similar actions against purveyors of unauthorized milk, cheese, and even elderberry juice.
• When financial questions arose regarding the Mountain Pure Water Company, Washington did not send a few staffers to inspect documents. Instead, last spring, some 50 armed Treasury agents breached Mountain Pure’s headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. They seized 82 boxes of records, herded employees into the cafeteria, snatched their cell phones, and refused to let them consult attorneys.
“We’re the federal government,” Mountain Pure’s comptroller, Jerry Miller, says one pistol-packing fed told him. “We can do what we want, when we want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
• A U.S. Department of Education SWAT force burst into Kenneth Wright’s Stockton, Calif., home in June 2011. “I look out of my window, and I see 15 police officers,” Wright told KXTV. Wright said one officer forced him by the neck onto the front lawn. “He had his knee on my back, and I had no idea why they were there.” While officers searched his house, Wright said, “They put me in handcuffs in a hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” then ages 3, 7, and 11.
The feds sought Wright’s estranged wife, apparently for suspected financial-aid fraud. However, she had moved away a year earlier. Regardless, such a mobilization seems unnecessary to probe someone for possibly swindling scholarship money.
• In August 2011, armed federal Fish and Wildlife agents stormed into the Memphis and Nashville factories of Gibson Guitar, which helps Jackson Browne, B. B. King, and other legends sound amazing. What clear and present danger did Gibson pose? Rather than import finished guitar components, it purchased raw ebony and rosewood from India so that American workers — not Indians — could manufacture fingerboards and other electric-guitar parts. Proving that there no longer is a need to write fiction, Uncle Sam’s case against Gibson is called United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.
• “SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even [used] to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations,” including armed incursions against several black barber shops in Orlando, Fla., according to the Huffington Post’s Radley Balko, who studiously chronicles this topic. He recalls a federal SWAT outfit that invaded an Atlanta DJ’s studio on suspicion of copyright infringement. When several Tibetan monks on a peace mission overstayed their visas, a federal SWAT unit cornered them. Texas SWAT officers targeted an Austin man accused of stealing koi from a fish pond. And a Virginia SWAT squad killed optometrist Sal Culosi while arresting him for sports gambling.
Balko also has reported on SWAT teams’ reprehensible habit of killing dogs:
• In 2008, gun-toting cops stormed the home of Berwyn Heights, Md.’s mayor, Cheye Calvo. They kicked down his door and handcuffed him (in his underwear) for two hours, along with his mother-in-law. Calvo’s wife walked in during the episode and discovered that police fatally had gunned down their two black Labrador retrievers, Chase and Payton.
“Our dogs were our children,” Calvo told the Associated Press. “They were the reason we bought this house, because it had a big yard for them to run in.” Next-door neighbor Edward Alexander added: “I was completely stunned, because those dogs didn’t hurt anybody. They barely bark.”
Police seized a FedEx package containing 32 pounds of marijuana, to which Calvo was unconnected. Drug traffickers had addressed it to his house, intending to collect it from his front porch before he did. No charges were filed against the Calvos.
• On July 13, 2010, a dozen St. Paul, Minn.–area policemen and a federal Drug Enforcement Agency officer assaulted Roberto Franco’s home. Clad in Army fatigues, they rousted all nine people there, including three children. “Each plaintiff was forced to the floor at gun and rifle point and handcuffed behind their backs,” states Franco’s $30 million federal lawsuit against these authorities. “Defendants shot and killed the family dog and forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour while defendants continued to search the plaintiffs’ home.”
According to the complaint, one young girl who “was handcuffed and prevented by officer from obtaining and taking her medication thus induced a diabetic episode as a result of low blood-sugar levels.”
Oops. Wrong house!
Negligent police meant to hit the house adjacent to the Francos. The search warrant named next-door neighbor Rafael Ybarra, but did not mention anyone named Franco. Perhaps these cops forgot to read that document before launching their onslaught against the Francos, their home, and their dog.
Eventually, the SWATsters realized their error. As the complaint continues: “Despite the fact that defendants learned that the suspect did not live at the address raided, defendants remained in the home of plaintiffs and continued searching the home.” The authorities eventually found a .22-caliber revolver in the basement. Although it belonged to Gilbert Castillo, another resident of the house, the gun was pinned on Franco, leading to his incarceration with Minnesota’s Department of Corrections.
• These raids destroy humans, too.
Fearing that criminals were invading his home on May 5, 2011, Iraq veteran Jose Guerena, 26, hid his wife and son, age 4, in a closet. He grabbed his rifle and went to investigate. An Arizona SWAT posse seeking marijuana kicked down Guerena’s front door, saw his rifle, and lethally pumped 71 bullets into him. Guerena did not fire a shot. Indeed, his rifle’s safety mechanism remained engaged. The dead father and husband had no criminal record, and his home was devoid of contraband.
Balko counts at least 46 innocent people killed in drug raids gone wrong.
Why are local constables devolving into flak-jacketed federales? As usual, thank Washington’s largesse. Like a steady drip of steroids, the War on Drugs has provided funding and encouragement for local cops to gird themselves like GIs leveling an Andean coca plantation.
Furthermore, as Balko wrote in November 2011, thanks to “a 1994 law authorizing the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments . . . literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens.” Since September 11, 2001, the War on Terror has furnished additional funds and matériel. Some of it should be available to defeat militant Islam. None of it should be used against, say, blackjack players.
The Obama administration has played its part, too. “In 2009,” Balko explains, “stimulus spending became another way to fund militarization, with police departments requesting federal cash for armored vehicles, SWAT armor, machine guns, surveillance drones, helicopters, and all manner of other tactical gear and equipment.”
Alas, when local cops who write tickets dress up like Green Berets, their attitudes can change. As former Reagan Pentagon aide Lawrence Korb pithily states: “Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.”
“The routine use of SWAT teams to serve thousands and thousands of drug-search warrants has resulted in unnecessary tragedies and fueled fears of government run wild, military raids of homes in the middle of the night based more upon secret suspicions than evidence, and not infrequently causing casualties to the totally innocent,” Hoover Institution research fellow Joe McNamara tells me. The 17-year NYPD veteran and former police chief of Kansas City and San Jose adds: “The SWAT raids certainly haven’t won the drug war, but have caused ‘collateral damage’ and fears that impair the police’s ability to gain citizen trust and cooperation against serious and violent crime.”
As gun stores currently enjoy land-sale business, some Americans are arming themselves to insure against circumstances as yet unseen. They justifiably worry that a government that aims gun barrels at Amish dairy farmers is capable of the unimaginable.
— Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.